8 Things You Have Wrong About Bed and Breakfasts

Since we’ve owned the inn, it’s amazed me how many first-time bed and breakfasters stay with us, and greet me in the morning, saying “This isn’t at all what I thought a bed and breakfast would be like!”

After that comment, I often ask what they thought it would be like–apparently there is an image of bnb owners sitting around in their jammies watching Lifetime Movie Network while guests tiptoe past them to their rooms. If that’s the case, then I’m with them–bed and breakfasts are not at all what some people think that they’re like!

Here are some other myths I’ve heard that I’d like to set straight:

1. You have to share bathrooms. C’mon, now–do you think you’re staying in a dorm? Forty years ago, when homeowners used to open a room or two to travelers for a little pocket money, that may have been the norm, but the vast majority of bed and breakfasts today are professional, well-run businesses. In fact, I don’t know any bnb’s in St. Augustine that have shared bathrooms (although I believe the hostel in town does–but that’s a totally different animal, and it’s advertised as such).

If you’re nervous, you can always ask your host/innkeeper when you make the reservation. But to be honest, most bnb’s don’t mention private bathrooms because in our industry we assume that you know that’s what you’re getting.

Want to know what you’re getting at the Bayfront Marin House? We’ve put a lot of time into upgrading our bathrooms (we still have three to renovate, but the rest are done, and–for the record–those three undone rooms are still private baths!), with beautiful tiles and frameless glass doors. Some of our showers have body jets, or two showerheads. Here is our most recent renovation, completed earlier this year:

bed and breakfast bathroom in St. Augustine, Florida

The bathroom for the Hopkins Cottage. No, it’s not a shared bathroom–although it is big enough for two.

So shared bathrooms? Only on Twitter and Facebook. There, they’re shared a lot.

2. Bed and breakfasts are creepy. Full disclosure: one of the first bed and breakfasts the hub and I visited had a life-sized stuffed doll named Minerva that presided over the bnb’s front room. It was one of the first things we saw as we checked in, and–in case we missed it–the owner called attention to her presence, saying “Please don’t give Minerva any alcohol. She can’t hold her liquor.” Soon after that, the hub and I unpacked our suitcases and hit the town. We kept on hitting it, just to keep from having to go back to our bed and breakfast.

Now, there are plenty of people who love dolls, and who would find a tipsy doll funny, not creepy. But that should be your choice. In our experience, most bnb’s are too upscale for dolls (we’d much rather have space in the room for an ipad charging station–or an ice bucket–than a porcelain doll). But you can figure that out with a quick glance at a bed and breakfast’s website–generally, if the owner loves dolls, you’re going to see a close up of one or two of them on the site. If you’re still nervous, call the inn in the afternoon. The owner will often answer at that time of day, and you can ask questions about the general decor.

3. You have to talk to other people while you’re staying at a bed and breakfast. I don’t know about you, but the hub and I go on vacation to forget about work. But if you spend any time talking to people while traveling, invariably one of the first things they ask you is “What do you do?”

The hub used to handle this by making things up–one time, he was an undertaker: “It’s not as popular a job as you might think,” I remember him saying. Another time, he was a car racer. I don’t advocate lying to fellow guests–particularly if someone might know a thing or two about being an undertaker or a racecar driver. Instead, I advocate telling the truth–just answer “Well, I’m really trying to forget what I do while I’m here. Want to hear about my hobbies instead?”

The other option is not to talk to people. As innkeepers, this is totally okay in our book. It’s your vacation, and you should do whatever you want to do while on it! Most bed and breakfasts today have private tables for breakfast (instead of one big table for 20), and lots of places to “hide” and enjoy some alone time. In our bnb, we have multiple seating areas on our porches and patios, a hammock, two porch swings, and a gazebo. If you want to spend some time alone, we’ve got a place you can do it.

hanging baskets petunias, bed and breakfast, St. Augustine, porches

Our second floor porch, just one of the great places to be by yourself at our inn.

4. It’s like staying at your grandmother’s house. This is not a complete myth, but in the best way. Like your grandmother, many bnb’s have a never-ending supply of homemade cookies. Also like Grandma’s, we want you to feel special–whether that’s with a hot breakfast in the morning, a comfy chair in your room, or super soft towels twisted into an animal shape to make you smile. A lot of people worry that bed and breakfast’s will feel old, or outdated–again, that’s not the norm. The bnb’s in St. Augustine generally have flat screen tv’s, free wifi, and charging stations–definitely not a grandma feel.

There are a couple of things that are WAY different than at Grandma’s house, and you should pay attention to the differences if you want to be a good guest. First: this is a business, but it’s also the owner’s home. Don’t just walk into the laundry room and start washing your undies–if it’s anything like our place, we need every minute of the day to wash all the sheets, blankets, and towels that get dirty every 24 hours. Second, don’t just open the fridge in the kitchen and help yourself–as a business, we have to adhere to health standards, so if we open a container of milk, it needs to be dated. Now if your host tells you that the fridge is fair game and the laundry is for your use–that’s fine. But if no one specifically said it, be sure to ask. Your Grandma taught you manners, didn’t she?

5. It’s just a house, so you don’t need to tip. We are all in favor of fair wages, and all of our employees make more than the minimum wage. But a tip isn’t just supplemental income–it’s a thank you, a way of showing your appreciation for service that goes above and beyond. Like if our cook makes you breakfast at 7am (when we start serving at 8), so that you can make your early flight. Or if our housekeeper brings soup to your room if you don’t feel well (yes, that has happened). Or if an innkeeper helps you find yellow sunflowers for your girlfriend because they’re her favorite.

Tipping definitely isn’t required, but it makes the staff feel appreciated. How much to leave? Some of it depends on how well you were taken care of, but $2 – $5 a day is the norm. For a special request–like running out to buy you dog food because you forgot to pack it–$10 is good.

6. Innkeepers are renting a room in their house to make extra money. This is not always true…and it certainly is not the case in St. Augustine. Innkeepers are typically full-time here–this isn’t extra money, it’s their *only* money. And since it’s a small business, you should consider that as you stay there: you’re not just a guest in their home, you’re a customer, and you are critical to their paying their bills.

So before you write a review online slamming the fact that the muffins weren’t warm, or you didn’t like the breakfast options one morning, think twice–do you want to affect the innkeepers income? Was your complaint enough to penalize the business owner possiblythousands of dollars of income? If you want to help the innkeeper improve their services, or run a more successful business, why not talk to them personally before you leave? Or leave a note with suggestions in your room? We never mind suggestions and input–to be honest, we don’t always know if a light is too dim to read by, or if the toilet runs every hour or so. We want to fix those items–preferably while you’re still staying with us, and have time to enjoy the improved experience.

Now, if you share your input with us and we shrug it off, well then, feel free to share your experience with future guests in an online review. But if we have tried our best, and made an effort to address your concern, please give us the benefit of the doubt. We’re just regular people trying to make you happy.

7. Bed and breakfasts are a cheap way of staying somewhere. (Alternative myth: Bed and Breakfasts are an expensive way to stay somewhere). Both of these comments are myths. Our prices are typically based on the market–if you’re staying in a bnb in a popular location, you can expect your stay to be more expensive than a chain hotel on the highway. So feel free to look at other places in town–prices can vary wildly, based on amenities offered and the location of the lodging. Just remember to factor in the additional services–most bed and breakfasts offer free parking, free breakfast, a free happy hour, and free wifi. Many offer other amenities that you might like–complimentary bicycles…beach towels, chairs, and umbrellas…free drinks throughout the day…free cookies or desserts. If those “extras” aren’t important to you, then don’t give them any weight in your decision, and choose your lodging based on price. If you plan on purchasing those items anyway, consider that as you look at the nightly rate. And don’t forget that great service does cost money–we have 16 people on staff to make sure that things run smoothly! Yes, it means we pay more in salaries and bonuses. But it also means that our guests are very well taken care of.

8. Bed and breakfasts are for old people. Well, this isn’t entirely a myth–we do have some great rooms well suited to older travelers (ask us about first room floors, walk-in showers with body jets, and in-room massages to help you unwind after a long day of walking, but the majority of our guests are more interested in social media than social security. What are young people discovering about bnbs?

  • Hotel Alternatives in St. Augustine, Florida, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Flag Day, flags, buntingIt’s unique, just like them. There are no cookie-cutter rooms here–bed and breakfasts are as varied as they can possibly be. If you can’t find one you like, well, then, you’re not looking.
  • It can be a bargain. Seriously, alcohol is free during happy hour at our place. You may find a good deal in town on a Tuesday night, but you’re not going to find free.
  • You will see the best places. You can go on Twitter to ask for advice on where to visit while you’re in town, but an innkeeper will give you great tips too–and they may know some out-of-the-way places that other visitors on Twitter won’t.

Let’s be serious–I’m a little biased about bed and breakfasts. But I like small businesses in general, and when it’s a small business that’s going to take care of me like I’m royalty, well, there is no downside to that!

Happy Labor Day! When you’re ready to take a break from your life’s labor, why not stay at a bed and breakfast?